Covert GPS Vehicle Tracking: Tips And Tricks On Making It Work

Sometimes, there is a need for covert GPS vehicle tracking. There just is. You might not like the fact that at any point someone could be tracking your movements with a GPS tracking device, but I think we can all agree that there are some instances where it is appropriate and permissible for this type of device to be installed in a vehicle. While we might not appreciate it if it were us being tracked, we definitely understand its use in variety of different situations by a handful of people.

For example, I think most people are going to agree that having a policeman install a GPS vehicle tracking device on a suspects car is going to be okay. We might disagree on whether this can be done without a warrant or it requires a warrant, but I think we all agree that the police should be able to do this.

Another area that might be a little more of a gray area for most of us is the use of covert tracking on our children and teens. While I personally believe that such tracking is well within a parents rights and responsibilities as a parent, I certainly don’t think that it is a very wise parenting decision in most circumstances. It just seems to me that other types of GPS tracking for teens would have a much better outcome than secret, covert tracking – but there are certainly circumstances where it might be a good idea to secretly track a teen. It is just not the norm.

Still more gray is the notion of setting up a covert GPS vehicle tracking system for a spouse or lover who you suspect of cheating. Of the two, I think most people would be most on the fence about tracking someone who is just a boyfriend/girlfriend – but even here I would suspect that the majority of people would find that this type of tracking is permissible as long as there is good reason to suspect them of cheating. This is especially true if the couple is physically intimate (which, I would suggest, should really only be done in the confines of a monogamous marriage relationship). If there is cheating going on (or even a suspicion of infidelity) in this type of relationship then I strongly encourage the person who suspects the cheating to discover the truth.

We have just outlined several situations in which it might be feasible to employ a GPS vehicle tracker covertly, so now it is time to discuss some of the different ways that we can make the most of our tracking device and find out the information we are seeking undetected by our target:

  1. Install the device in an accessible, yet hidden, location.  This could be inside a wheel well, under the back bumper, or even inside an unused glove box or storage bin inside the cab of the vehicle.  You obviously don’t want to put it on the dash of the vehicle like a navigation GPS as this will be a curious sight to the person that you are wanting to track covertly.  With the placement of the device you want to avoid detection at all costs.
  2. Install the device when you will be undisturbed by your target or by others.  If your target is about to leave in five minutes and it is 1 PM it is probably not the time to be under the wheel well of their car installing a GPS vehicle tracking device.  They will probably end up seeing you down there or notice the schmutz on your back and ask what it is that you were just doing.  This is bad as most people are terrible liars.  If they suspect that you are tracking them then you will never get the data that you need.
  3. Choose the type of tracking system that is going to best fit your needs.  Sometimes it is better to forgo real time GPS vehicle tracking for a safer data logger.  Why is a data logger safer?  It boils down to two words: battery life.  A lot of the real time trackers on the market have a dismal battery life when it comes to gathering information on a target vehicle.  One particular tracker, the Zoombak, will only let you have the device on for 5 days before the battery dies, and that doesn’t include a single position call!  Data loggers can often last weeks, providing you with a complete picture of a vehicles activity for extended periods of time.  Also, you have to retrieve the device to replace its batteries less if you go with a logging GPS vehicle tracking system – making it less likely that you get caught in the retrieval stage of your tracking effort.
  4. When retrieving the device follow the same procedure in point #2.  Remember, you don’t want to get caught with the data even after the tracking has been completed.  You want to be able to decipher the coordinates and there meaning before you confront your spouse, or your teen, or a suspect in a criminal investigation.

If you follow these steps carefully, taking special care in point #2 and point #3, then you should have no problem installing a GPS vehicle tracker covertly.  While your own personal experience with this type of tracking may vary, the use of covert GPS vehicle tracking is certainly legitimate and useful in certain circumstances.

Understanding Real Time GPS Vehicle Tracking

We are living in an increasingly complex world where we are constantly bombarded with massive amounts of information every day.  Our world is not so simple as it once was, and while technology can be a great assistance to us in our endeavors to understand the world around us it can also be a hindrance.  Some technology is better left undiscovered by those that would seek to use it, the complexity that it takes to understand its function being too much for some people.  Luckily, real time GPS vehicle tracking is not this type of technology.

It is relatively easy to understand, and can be reduced to overly simplistic terms extremely well.  Even thought it makes use of some the most complex and powerful technology that the 21st century has to offer, the actual function of the technology itself is easily intelligible and intuitive. You can understand real time tracking without having to have the smallest bit of technical understanding. It may appear to work “magically” to some people, but it can be relied upon in its “magic.” The information it provides is easily translatable, meaning that people of all positions and stations can understand what the GPS tracking system is communicating.

Real Time Vehicle Tracking Basics

Even though you don’t need to understand much about how a real time GPS vehicle tracking system works in order to get some benefit from it, it is still a good idea to try and understand the way this technology works so that we can better ascertain its limitations and costs. We need to be thoughtful consumers if the things we buy are to have the maximum amount of positive impact on our lives or our business.

With all things GPS, we should start with the Global Positioning Satellites that orbit the earth. There are over 20 of these satellites continuously transmitting data on a specific radiowave frequency that can be read by specialized receivers. The information contained in these transmissions is critical for how portable GPS devices are able to calculate their position. The data contained is the position of the satellite and the time that the transmission was sent.

Once a GPS device has received enough of these signals (3 signals from 3 different satellites) it is then able to calculate its position using a process called trilateration. What it does is it takes the know location of three or more objects, in this case the GPS satellites, and uses the known distance from these locations, which is calculated by taking the amount of time between when the GPS signal was transmitted and when it was “heard” by the GPS tracking device and then multiplying that time by the speed of the radiowave, to find out exactly where the GPS device you are holding is.  It is a little complicated when talked about this way, but it is actually quiet easy to understand when properly explained.

This video does a great job of communicating the basic principles of how a GPS device figures out its position (it is made for kids, but the information is great):

The acting in this film is, in a word, terrible, but the information contained within it is pretty informative if you ask me.

Now that we understand how a GPS device calculates its position we now need to understand what give real time GPS vehicle tracking its real time component. After all, such things as GPS navigation, golf GPS, and data logging GPS do not have a real time component to their GPS capabilities. So what makes real time GPS tracking real time?

The answer to this question is found in cell phone technology.  Once a GPS tracking device has figured out its location it needs to be able to communicate that data to a third party so that tracking can occur in real time.  Otherwise the device is just a simple GPS data logger.  While some GPS tracking systems also employ radio signals to transmit the data to a tracking unit (such as the Garmin Astro GPS pet tracking system), this is not the norm and is not really feasible for vehicle tracking applications.  GPS vehicle tracking depends on cell phone technology to transmit the data from unit to server where it can then be processed by GPS tracking software.

Because real time vehicle tracking depends on both GPS signals from above and on cell phone signals from below there are some limitations to its ability to track a vehicle.  One of them is that if they are obstructed from receiving a signal from the GPS satellite then they cannot be tracked.  While GPS receivers have grown considerably in strength over the last several decades, there are still some issues with being able to receive a signal in some conditions.  Extremely inclement weather, traveling under ground in a tunnel, or even navigating amidst tower sky scrapers can affect your GPS’s ability to get a lock on your location. A-GPS (Assisted GPS) tries to mitigate these problems by getting help from cell phone signals and has proven to be more accurate than simple GPS, but even that is not fool proof.

The second limitation for a real time GPS tracker is the need for a constant connection to the cell phone grid. If a device looses cell phone reception is no longer is effective at being a real time tracker. There are several things that could result in a signal being lost, but the most common are that the area is remote and has not access to cell phone towers or that the terrain interferes with the signal, like in a gully or ravine.

Another thing about relying on a cell phone grid is that you generally have to pay extra fees for using it. Most real time tracking systems are going to come with a monthly subscription fee that can run you anywhere from $9.99 to $50 depending on how many location requests you make or the capabilities of your providers GPS tracking software. This can be a real back breaker for those that have barely enough to fork out the considerable up front device purchase price.

But if you can stomach the expense and have a need for GPS vehicle tracking then adding a real time tracker to your repertoire is going to be very nice. They are very powerful at what they do, and if you plan on tracking a vehicle that mainly uses the urban landscape for its activities you should have no problem getting a real time, 24/7 picture of the vehicles activities. If you can hardwire the real time GPS vehicle tracking device to the car or truck then you should continuous tracking capabilities. This set up is particularly useful for fleet tracking, car tracking, and teen tracking.

Picking Your GPS Vehicle Tracking System

Like with most other forms of GPS tracking, when it comes to vehicle tracking using GPS there are two main types: real-time tracking and passive, logging tracking.  Depending on why you want to track a certain vehicle will determine which method of tracking you employ.  However, it is important to note that GPS vehicle tracking is more viable today than it has ever been in the history of GPS or vehicle tracking so there are going to be a lot of different options for the person serious about finding an option that works best for them.

There is also going to be a distinction between those who want to track a vehicle with GPS for personal use and those that want to employ vehicle tracking for a business.  The equipment and the systems used will differ in quality and design, but not necessarily in how they work – they will be using GPS tracking technology to find, record, and report the location of a vehicle to someone.  As we will see, it is how these devices do this that matters.

Real Time GPS Vehicle Tracking

When most people think about GPS based vehicle tracking they think of tracking that occurs in real time.  If a vehicle is at 101 North Main Street then a person is going to want to be able to look at a computer running some GPS tracking software and be able to tell that.  If the vehicle then turns left down Michigan Street they want to be able to tell that this has occurred within a reasonable amount of time – say 5 seconds.  This is the power of real time GPS tracking.

But there are several things that you have to realize if you are going to choose this type of GPS vehicle tracking system:

  1. Tracking devices that offer updates in real time are often anything but cheap.  It can run you hundreds of dollars just for the hardware that gets the tracking off the ground.  On top of the hardware purchase there is going to be a service fee of some amount depending on the company that you choose to service your GPS tracking plan.  Different companies will work with different hardware and some companies will charge you more than others for access to your real-time tracking information.  Most companies are going to make your tracking data available through a GoogleMaps-like interface, so it should come down to who is going to offer you the best price for the services that you really need.
  2. Not all GPS tracking devices are created equal.  The more modern the device the more likely it is going to have the latest technology in terms of GPS receptiveness and communication technology.  For example, the newer SiRFstarIII chipset is widely accepted as being superior to other previous GPS chips.  It acquires a signal much faster and can even get a GPS signal where many other older GPS chipsets cannot.  You are also going to want to make sure that your GPS has access to GPRS, a system that will allow your GPS tracking device to transmit the data it gathers on the vehicle to the software that will display it for you on your computer screen.
  3. In addition to the paid services you can get some GPS tracking for free.  Probably the best vehicle trackers are cell phones, especially since there are tons of free GPS tracking applications for them.  While you won’t get a lot out of this type of free service, if you put some thought and work into you can use a free tracking program to do all sorts of cool stuff.  It normally doesn’t scale too well, so this type of tracking is only really going to work for an individual, a family, or a small business that want to track their vehicles with GPS.

Most people who choose to use real time GPS vehicle tracking fall into one of two categories, they want to use it for GPS fleet tracking or they want to track a single person.  The reasons that business would choose to track their vehicles with GPS are obvious.  Most small businesses that employ some form of GPS tracking generally see an increase in the number of services orders that their fleet fulfills in just two years time.  The average increase they see is around 25%, making GPS tracking a very useful tool in the chest of a business owner.

If used appropriately, real time fleet tracking can improve worker productivity, create a positive work environment, improve vehicle routing, streamline fleet maintenance, and encourage efficient work habits.  This can be a win-win for employees and employers alike if deployed with tact.

Then there is using real time GPS tracking for personal use.  Here is a list of some of the reasons that a person may choose to use a personal GPS vehicle tracking system:

  • Track a teen with GPS while they drive.
  • Catch a cheating spouse in the act.
  • Know when a spouse with an erratic schedule is on their way home.
  • Keep connected with family members while on a long road trip.

This list is by no means exhaustive and is simply supposed to be a small indication of the different things that a person can do with this type of technology.  The possibilities are really limited by our imagination and ingenuity.

GPS Vehicle Tracking Loggers

Data loggers are a completely different beast.  While they do work off the same basic GPS principles that real time trackers work off of, they do not have the all important real time capabilities that GPRS gives a real time tracker.  Loggers are mostly used in covert GPS vehicle tracking done by police or by private parties to help them get a better understanding of a person’s activities.  For example, there was a GPS vehicle tracking logger at the center of the warantless GPS tracking case.  This device was used by police, who had a warrant by the way, to track down the activity of a suspected stalker.  They installed it on his car and waited about two weeks.  The evidence was then downloaded on the police computers where they were able to place the suspect at the scene of a stalking incident that happened during the time when the GPS tracking was active.

The GPS vehicle tracking equipment used in this type of tracking is often much cheaper than other their real time tracking counterparts.  You can generally get one of these devices for under $200 and they can provide location information for months since they track vehicles passively.  Also, you won’t have to worry about an expensive service fee because these devices have no such fee.  They don’t use GPRS nor do they need to communicate with a third party.  All GPS tracking software is going to be installed locally on one of your own computers so no one else has to know about the data that you gather.

Also, data loggers (like GPS tracking sticks) generally have a much longer active battery life than do real time GPS trackers.  This is because transmitting data via GPRS can be very taxing on a units power supply.  Without constant power it can be difficult to get real time information on a target that you want to track in secret and going back to the scene of the tracker could lead to having it found out by the person you want to track covertly.

This makes it great for covert GPS tracking or for tracking a person in secret.  While real time tracking is certainly going to be more useful if you want to take action on data while something is actually happening, data logging can be just as useful for vehicle tracking.

Which GPS Tracking Solution Best Meets Your Needs?

When you come to the final analysis you will have to weigh your budget constraints with your tracking wishes.  I don’t think that there are many people who would prefer a data logger over a real time tracker, but money is a serious limitation for some people and they simply cannot afford the cost associated with live tracking capabilities.  No matter which option you go with you can be certain that there is a GPS vehicle tracking device out there for you, your needs, and your budget.